Rue de la Clef / Sainte-Pélagie prison

Arrondissement 5

Number 56, site of Sainte-Pélagie prison

The Sainte-Pélagie prison in Rue de la Clef sketched in the 18th century before it became a welcomed prison of choice for 19th century political prisoners

In 1821 the songwriter and pamphleteer Pierre-Jean de Béranger spent three months at Sainte-Pélagie for an oblique political criticism of Louis XVIII. In 1832 Honoré Daumier is placed there. With cholera appearing in the prison a revolt organised by prisoners from the secret Society of the Friends of the People (Société des amis du people) that year led to one death. Hazan (WTP) writes that ‘under the Restoration and the July monarchy… all the opposition leaders passed’ through this prison.

Hazan (IOP) explains that when another prison to accommodate debtors was built in 1826 in the Rue de Clichy in the 9th arrondissement, ‘Creditors who requested the incarceration of a debtor were required to pay thirty francs a month for the prisoner’s maintenance’.

Honoré Daumier spent six months there in 1832 for his political caricatures attacking the new king Louis-Philippe.

Daumier was jailed for this 1831 and other cartoons suggesting King Louis Philippe is as good as his Bourbon cousins at impoverishing people

164 arrests of republicans were made after the riots that followed the rue Transonain massacre of April 1834. Among those jailed at Sainte-Pélagie were Arago, Victor Schoelcher, Barbès and Godefroy de Cavaignac. Barbès organised an escape by 28 of them through a tunnel in July 1835.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a political prisoner held there from 1849 to 1852. After first fleeing to Belgium he returned to marry Euphrasie Piégard while still in jail.

Elisée Reclus was held there after the 1871 Paris Commune on his way to deportation. Gustave Courbet was jailed there from June 1871 to March 1872 after he was arrested at his hiding place in the Rue St Gilles.

Auguste Blanqui was held there in 1831, 1832 and 1836 and again from 1861 to 1865 when he escaped and went into exile in Belgium until the end of the Second Empire.

Sainte-Pélagie prison courtyard in 1880

Jules Guesde was held there in 1878 in the section of the prison called Pavillion des Princes, entered through 2-14 rue due Puits de l’Érmite (roughly where 3-15 rue Lacépède is today).

On 30 July 1891 Paul Lafargue lost his appeal against a year’s imprisonment for an ‘inflammatory’ speech made after the killing of 10 demonstrators by troops on a May Day march in the Northern textile town, Fourmies.

From the Concièrgerie, where he was held initially, Lafargue was finally sent to Sainte-Pélagie. This was to his great relief, since it was still a political prison. He had access to books and newspapers, and hot and cold water for washing and taking baths.

Sainte-Pélagie prison in 1898 shortly before its demolition

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